Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce Recipe for Slow Cooker

How to make homemade tomato and meat sauce for spaghetti, all the flavor for a fraction of the calories. For a convenient, low-fat and low-calorie healthy supper, make the sauce ahead of time in a slow cooker (or slow-cooked in the oven) with a pantry's worth of spices . Wanna add giant meatballs? Me too, I'll show you exactly how. This is pure homestyle comfort food, the favorite for kids and grown-ups alike. No wonder it takes my mind way-way back, remembering Italian suppers hosted by my parents, such exotic world cuisine through my child's eyes!

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker with Giant Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥ KitchenParade.com. Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.

How to Make Spaghetti Meat Sauce from Scratch, Fresh & Family-Approved. A Long-Time Family Favorite. Another Quick Supper, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Hearty & Filling. A New Addition to The Homemade Pantry, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Year-Round Kitchen Staple. Kid Friendly. Meal Prep Friendly. Freezer Friendly. Budget Friendly. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. How to Feed a Crowd. Potluck & Party Friendly. Low Carb. Low Fat. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly. Naturally Gluten Free. So Good!!

~ PIN This ~

On My Mind  ♥ KitchenParade.com, thinking about the Italian dinner parties hosted by my parents in the 1960s.

On My Mind: Parent Parties in the 1960s

When I was a girl, my parents hosted a dinner party for friends, fussing over the food and the table. The theme must have been "Italy" because the menu was classic Italian aka "Eye-talian" as interpreted by Prairie Canadians and Midwesterners who’d no more seen Naples than New York.

(Side note: After this story first went live back in 2010, a note arrived from my then 80-something father, a gentle reminder that during World War II, Canadian and Midwestern soldiers were in Italy by the thousands and that Italian military cemeteries hold thousands of those thousands.)

The kitchen table sagged with big platters of spaghetti topped with meat sauce, baskets of garlic bread and a festive (plastic) bowl of (iceberg) lettuce and tomato salad with – little doubt – (bottled) Italian dressing.

To my widened young eyes, this party was a pinnacle of "grown-up entertaining" – a far remove from the familiar "company for Sunday dinner" or "having people over for supper".

Oh, it looked so worldly! so chic! oh-so-grown-up! What disappointment when the babysitter corralled all the kids and took us next door for the night ...

Concentrated, Assertive Flavor

Nowadays when just-add-hamburger spaghetti sauce comes cheap in jars, there’s nothing exotic about spaghetti with a meaty tomato sauce. It’s everyday food, inexpensive to make, easy to serve, a household staple.

Many recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce take their flavor from Italian sausage – it works, every time. But Italian sausage adds much fat and many calories, more than is healthful for an everyday meal.

So when I adapted this recipe from Taste of Home, I skipped the Italian sausage itself but kept its spices. Then I let the spaghetti sauce simmer at low temperature for a loooong time, concentrating the flavors. The result is assertive flavor that’s good for you and good to eat. Let’s have a party!

KID FRIENDLY! And there's no reason to send the kids next door for this party. In fact, Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce is one of my go-to kid-friendly recipes. We rarely make separate food for the kids but for Christmas dinner last year, the grown-ups feasted on seafood-thick Lazy Man's Ciopinno while the kids chowed down on spaghetti and meatballs. Everybody was happy!

About This Recipe: Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce

  • This recipe is for a homemade tomato-based meaty sauce that's cooked in a slow cooker (or slow-cooked in the oven) to serve tossed with spaghetti noodles and, if you like, giant meatballs.
  • Distinctive Ingredients = Ground Beef (or another ground meat) + Canned Tomatoes + Canned Tomato Sauce + a mix of Italian-style Special Spices
  • Special Spices = fennel + rosemary + thyme + basil + oregano + marjoram + sage
  • Short Ingredient List = all the above + olive oil + onion + garlic + Worcestershire + sugar + salt & pepper
  • For Garnish = A little fresh parsley
  • Kitchen Tools = A skillet for browning the meat + a large slow cooker ~or~ a large Dutch oven for browning the meat and slow-cooking in the oven.
  • Slow Cooking = The sauce cooks on the Low slow cooker setting for 8 hours, this really gives the sauce time for the flavors to meld and develop. For the last hour or so, check the sauce; if it's got too much liquid, remove the lid and let cook for another hour, cooking off the liquid as it evaporates now that the lid is off. In the oven, the sauce develops more quickly, just 3 hours at 225F/105C.
  • This is a time-friendly recipe. After some up-front prep, the sauce simmers away, making the kitchen smell good, all hands-off.
  • This is pantry-friendly recipe, especially for cooks who use lots of spices.
  • This is a calorie-friendly recipe, so much flavor cooked into the meat and tomato.
  • This is a budget-friendly recipe for cooks who keep lots of spices on hand.
  • As written, the recipe yields about 8 cups of meaty Spaghetti Sauce.
  • This recipe works well for those Cooking for One or Two. If 8 cups sounds like too much, know that the Spaghetti Meat Sauce freezes well. For future meals, I often freeze it in one-cup containers, then take out however many containers are needed for dinner. Short on freezer space? Just cut the recipe in half for a smaller slow cooker.
  • So good! I hope you love it!

  • If you like this recipe, you're sure to like my Skillet Burgers with Tomato Gravy, many of the same ingredients but just a couple of common spices.
  • Not quite what you're looking for? Check out my other recipes for a Slow Cooker & Oven Slow-Cooking.
Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker with Giant Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥ KitchenParade.com. Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

  • Wait. How can spaghetti sauce cooked all day in a slow cooker be a "quick supper"? LOL. Good question. But I promise, there's an equally good answer. My definition of quick suppers includes time, yes, but also other factors. At Kitchen Parade, Quick Suppers are "easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher". A perfect recipe hits all four goals but some recipes may only hit three. In this case, Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce is a "3" for budget, calories and dish count but a "4" if you consider the short hands-on time instead of the total time in the slow cooker. Good answer? I hope you think so!

For Best Results

For my weekly column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I interviewed chefs and translated their restaurant recipes for home kitchens. The most illuminating question? "How can a home cook ensure the same results?" So now I ask that question of myself, too, for my own recipes. Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

Don't skip the fennel. To my taste, fennel is the key seasoning for so many Italian dishes and it's definitely the case here. I'd recommend dried ground fennel for this recipe but the cooking time is so long, I think that whole fennel would work fine too.

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this recipe inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker with Giant Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥ KitchenParade.com. Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.

~ PIN This ~


Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes 8 cups sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (see TIPS)
  • 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (assumes Morton's Kosher Salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooked Meat
  • 2 tablespoons ground fennel (see TIPS)
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cooked spaghetti
  • Giant Meatballs (recipe adaptation below), optional
  • Chopped parsley, optional

BROWN THE MEAT In a large skillet (if using a slow cooker) or Dutch oven (if slow-cooking in the oven), heat the oil on medium high until shimmery. Add the onions and garlic as prepped, stirring to coat with fat. Stir in the meat, breaking it apart but still leaving in chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is well-browned, in fact, don't hesitate to let a little "burn" collect on the edges, it's flavor!

TOMATO INGREDIENTS While the meat is cooking, collect the Tomato Ingredients in a large slow cooker. Stir in the Cooked Meat and Special Spices.

COOK IN THE SLOW COOKER Cover and cook on the Low setting for 8 hours. If possible, remove the lid for the last hour or so, cooking down the liquid.

~ or ~

SLOW-COOK IN THE OVEN After the meat cooks, stir in the Tomato Ingredients plus the Special Spices. Cover and let slowly cook in the oven at 225F/105C for about 3 hours.

TO SERVE Remove the bay leaves first. Then toss some of the tomato-y liquid from the sauce with the cooked spaghetti. Arrange spaghetti on serving plates and top with Meat Sauce. If using, top with Giant Meatballs and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS This sauce can definitely be made ahead of time, it reheats beautifully. It freezes well too! I love having a big batch in the freezer for an impromptu Saturday night family gathering!

ADD GIANT MEATBALLS! We're fiends for tender giant meatballs in tomato sauce at Mia Sorella, our favorite neighborhood hangout. So I adapted my recipe for Finnish Meatballs to make giant meatballs. So good!

Here's how I adapted that recipe. First, substitute Italian-friendly ground fennel for the Scandinavian-typical allspice. Then form large meatballs, about 4 ounces each. Then I heat up the already-cooked Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce and cook the meatballs right there in the sauce in the oven, uncovered at 300F/150C until the meatballs reach 180F/80C, about 2 hours, drizzling the meatballs with sauce occasionally. Soooo good!

ALANNA’s TIPS I make this sauce with ground beef, ground elk and ground venison. If using ground beef, you may want to drain off any fat that accumulates in the skillet during cooking. Another way to remove fat is to make this a day before serving, refrigerate overnight, then scrape the fat off the top before re-warming to serve. The list of Special Spices is long, for sure. Italian seasoning is a rough approximation but don’t hesitate to keep doctoring a jar of purchased Italian seasoning until it tastes good. To my taste, the ground fennel is essential, please don't skip it! If you use no-salt tomato sauce, you'll probably need to increase the salt.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See https://www.kitchenparade.com/2010/02/homemade-spaghetti-meat-sauce-recipe.php .
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 117 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 35mg Cholesterol; 705mg Sodium; 8g Carb; 2g Fiber; 4g Sugar; 13g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 2 & Points Plus 3 & SmartPoints 3 & Freestyle 2 & myWW green 3 & blue 2 & purple 2 & future WW points. This recipe has been "Alanna-sized".
Adapted from Taste of Home, Feb-Mar 2009 issue

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~ beef ~
~ elk ~

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
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A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I usually make my own sauce and am always looking for new recipes to try. this will be the next one I make. Also, always use ground fennel in my sauce. can be hard to find, but can always find it in Louisiana.

  2. That was a wonderful experience, and a great recipe!! I remember something like this when I was in Girl Scouts. My mom made burritos for "international night" in the early 1970's. I had never had anything like it before and was amazed by the flavors. It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever eaten! A couple of years later we got our first "Taco Bell", and it became standard "fast food", but to this day, my mom's burritos (however humble!) are the standard to meet. Thanks for such a wonderful post!!


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna